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Unequal reproduction early in a social transition

Cite this dataset

Sankovitz, Madison; Loope, Kevin; Wilson Rankin, Erin; Purcell, Jessica (2022). Unequal reproduction early in a social transition [Dataset]. Dryad.


In eusocial insects, nestmate queens can differ in their reproductive output, causing asymmetries in the distribution of mutual benefits. However, little is known about how reproductive success is partitioned in incipiently polygynous species, which would provide clues about the evolutionary forces shaping the emergence of polygyny. Here, we leverage a recent transition from predominantly single-queen (monogyne) to multiple-queen (polygyne) colonies in an invasive yellowjacket to investigate whether queens in incipiently polygyne colonies invest equally in reproductive effort or vary in their relative investment in each caste. We excavated nine polygyne Vespula pensylvanica colonies in Hawaii and used RAD-sequencing to infer the parentage of worker, male, and gyne (daughter queen) pupae from each nest comb.  In four colonies with at least eight gyne pupae, a single queen produced most or all gynes. These queens had no male offspring and few worker offspring, suggesting that a subset of nestmate queens might exploit the collective benefits of newly polygyne societies. In contrast to most queens, gyne-producers had offspring distributed non-randomly across nest combs.  Nestmate queens generally exhibited low relatedness levels. Our results suggest that rapid, ecologically driven transitions to polygyny among unrelated queens may, at their onset, be vulnerable to reproductive asymmetries that are likely evolutionarily unstable. More broadly, this study contributes to the understanding of social evolution by uncovering asymmetric partitioning of reproduction in a population with newly evolved polygyny and raises questions about the future trajectories of introduced populations.


National Science Foundation